"I haven't thought about food or cooking in restaurants much since the fire," says David Kinch, the chef of double Michelin-starred restaurant Manresa.
The celebrated, avant-garde Los Gatos, California, restaurant has been painstakingly rebuilding since it suffered a devastating fire this past summer. We're chatting in Tasting Table's Test Kitchen in Soho, where the following night he's cooking for an intimate cocktail party.
Kinch, a visionary among his contemporaries in New American cuisine, hopes to reopen by the end of the year, but, for the moment, isn't making any promises.
"The silver lining is that it gives us a chance to reinvent ourselves," he says. "I don't think of it as a new restaurant opening, but we'll actually have the time to figure out the next step in our evolution."
Said evolution has taken place over the past 12 years, gorgeously documented in the Manresa cookbook ($50), more a marriage of narrative and photos than a straightforward collection of recipes.
Kinch has been cooking here and there, including an annual tomato-themed dinner at Love Apple Farms, source of most of Manresa's produce. It was there that he first made the beautiful tomato soup (see the recipe) he shows us in the Test Kitchen.
But of course, a chef like Kinch isn't going to make a boring purée of the season's best fruit. Instead the soup, served in small jars over a silky garlic panna cotta, is a clever play on textures and temperatures.
"It's almost a vinaigrette," he explains. "The tomatoes are slowly heated, so the outside is cooked, but they maintain a rawness inside. Then they're passed through a food mill to capture the juice and a purée; we want the two textures."
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The finished dish may look deceptively simple, but it's actually quite complex. And the fact that it's a little heady is okay with Kinch.
"Fine dining is alive and well and it's poised to make a comeback. People are going to rediscover the pleasure of good service, of sitting in a comfortable chair."
Perhaps thinking ahead to his own restaurant reopening, he adds, "There's nothing wrong with being treated well."
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